Saturday, September 08, 2012

Japandroids = Good Old Fashioned Rock

The Japandroids have guts. Any band that opens their record with the sound of fireworks going off better be able to back it up. Luckily this sparse two piece outfit has enough hooks to pull it off. "Celebration Rock" is an ode to all things rock n roll. It's a throw back and a leap forward all at once. It is by dad the most anthemic record produced this year.

"The Nights of Wine and Roses" explodes though the speakers lead by the steady drumming of David Prowse that propels the song to great heights. When lead singer Brian King tells launches into the tale of lost innocence on "Fire's Highway" he seems to be channeling Springsteen without aping him. For a two piece band there Ida lot of space in the songs. Guitar notes are left to longer into feedback before exploding again. There's a punk ethos underlying the songs like "Evil's Sway" and the sure to be love sing along staple "The House Heaven Built". The closing "Continuous Thunder" has a slight downshift in tempo that echoes Monster Era R.E.M. This is without a doubt the driving record of the year and a top 5 album of the year for sure.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Buy This Book!!!

A Matter of FateI know this is a blog about music, but every once and awhile I like to step out of that world and publicize something else I think is worth your time. A Matter of Fate is a teen fantasy novel about the trials of a young girl coming to grips with who she is and what life has in store for her. All the while conflicted about her feelings about TWIN BROTHERS!!!!
The book is written by Heather Lyons (yes, she's my wife) and can be purchased by visiting her website at or .
The book is available in both hard copy and e-book. Take some time and check it worth, you won't be disappointed.
The synopsis is here:
     Chloe Lilywhite struggles with all the normal problems of a typical seventeen-year-old high school student. Only, Chloe isn’t a normal teenage girl. She’s a Magical, part of a secret race of beings who influence the universe. More importantly, she’s a Creator, which means Fate mapped out her destiny long ago, from her college choice, to where she will live, to even her job. While her friends and relatives relish their future roles, Chloe resents the lack of say in her life, especially when she learns she’s to be guarded against a vengeful group of beings bent on wiping out her kind. Their number one target? Chloe, of course.

     That’s nothing compared to the boy trouble she’s gotten herself into. Because a guy she’s literally dreamed of and loved her entire life, one she never knew truly existed, shows up in her math class, and with him comes a twin brother she finds herself inexplicably drawn to.

     Chloe’s once unyielding path now has a lot more choices than she ever thought possible.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Curious Quail: All it Took Was The Name

Sometimes all it takes is an inventive band name to catch my eye. With the case of an extraordinary San Jose band, it's a name as inventive as CURIOUS QUAIL. I literally had no idea what to expect when I stumbled across their album "Instant Gratification" on one of my late night random searches. After a few dalliances with their tumblr page I dove headfirst into the album. I'm a very glad I did.

The opening track is a laptop pop confection entitled "Once In A While". Not a bad start but not the best the band has to offer. By the time the guitars crank up with "Disappointed Smiles" one senses something special is afoot. Lead singer Mike Shirley-Donnelly has a laid back vocal style punctuated with enough inflection to keep the listener off balance. "When Cats Learned to Speak" utilizes a little keyboard tinkle and a skippy drum beat to push the song along to the point where you just get lost in the groove. But then the listener arrives at "Survivor's Guilt" and time literally stops. I haven't been floored by a single song in a long time. Like a long lost cousin of a good SMASHING PUMPKINS song meshed with the emotional depth of a CLAP YOUR HANDS AND SAY YEAH poem, Shirley-Donnelly digs deep into his soul and explodes across the song. There is genuine pain and emotion pouring out of it in a way that make you come back again and again.

After the sheer brilliance of "Survivor's Guilt", there is bound to be a let down. "The GLOW" is a POSTAL SERVICE style lament. "Something Under The Bed Is Drooling" is the turn to a quieter more acoustic laden sound for the second half of the record. There are shades of DAVID BYRNE in the vocals and the violin becomes more prominent in the back part of the record. By the end of the record, "closing with the elegiac "Playground", the listener has been on a emotional journey of childhood fears and hopes along with adult loss and love. It's a heady record that grows more detailed with each listen. At least for me, a candidate for record of the year.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Public Enemy (damn right, I reviewed it!!)

So, you may be asking yourself, is there anyone in the USA less qualified to review PUBLIC ENEMY's new album than a suburban white guy with three kids, drives a white Minivan with those stick figure decals of his family, and whose most recent posts included DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE and DEPECHE MODE? But I will counter with four specific anecdotes as credentials;

1) I have actually played pool with FLAVOR FLAV. At the release party for their Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age record at the Hollywood Athletic Club. He kicked me ass by the way.

2) I have interviewed Professor Griff for my defunct radio show in college. He was not what I expected and, to this day, his intelligence and thoughtfulness is still somewhat shocking.

3) Chuck D signed my copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back without questioning why a geeky kid like me even owned the record in first place.

4) I was present for their opening act stint for U2 in Arizona when they played two songs and walked off the stage. I think I was one of maybe twenty people in the audience who knew why they did it.

(shout out to my friend Scott who was present for all four of these events.)

So now that we have established my cred, here are my thoughts about Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp, PE's first record in 5 years. From the opening salvo of "Run Till It's Dark" it is obvious that even 25 years into their career, Chuck D is still one of the fiercest Mc's on the planet. The vitriol and the anger are present just like they were all those years ago. The title track recycles a phrase from prior work and hints of some older beats to reclaim Public Enemy's mantle as the sound of old school hip hop. The first single, "I Shall Not Be Moved", takes a simple bass line and live drum beats to give D room to hit the lyrics hard. Yes, he's older, making references to working the senior circuit, but Chuck still has the right tone for his message. Musically, the group has expanded it's sound to include more live musicians since Terminator X, the architect of their original sound, is no longer with the group. There is a lot of funk references throughout, including the groovy "Get It In" and the horn driving "Fassfood". The album closer is the truly odd "WTF?" which takes a pretty straight forward guitar lick and rock structure and gives Chuck a new tone to work with. Here the rapper attacks the Tea Party and other government structures to address the still huge gap between the have and have nots.

The biggest difference between this album and other Public Enemy records is the noticeable absence of Flavor Flav. Relegated to a side man, Flav seems to be the odd man out of the record. Normally, he would get a song or two to lead the charge (most notable "911 Is a Joke"), but maybe his reality star career got in the way. "WTF?" is the closest to a showcase but even his verses seem lackluster. Flav, you used to be a sly comic, now your slipping. Work harder son, work harder.

There is a lot to like about this album is you like Public Enemy's previous work. Rumor has it this is the first of two albums to be released this year. If that's true then even after 25 years, Public Enemy is still going strong. And all of us are better off for it.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 23)

My wife and I were lamenting the loss of music videos the other day. With MTV and VH1 no longer featuring music, videos are now almost exclusively an on-line phenomenon. This is a shame since you might miss out on videos that are unique and interesting. Here is one I missed that would have been a huge hit if they still played them on TV. One top of that, DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE'S 'Underneath the Sycamores" is a great pop song:

Friday, July 06, 2012

Fionna Apple is Back to Break Our Heart

FIONA APPLE markets crazy better than anyone we have encountered in a long time. As famous for her idiosyncrasies as she is for her music, Apple has re-emerged from her cocoon to produce a new record of pain and catharsis entitled "The Idler Wheel..." (The whole title is 23 words long). What is undeniable is Apple's talent as a singer and songwriter.

From the opening piano strokes of "Every Single Night", Apple establishes the mood of the record as one of late night lamenting of lost love and the pain that comes with it. "Daredevil" is an open letter to herself as she goes back and forth about returning to her lover who has clearly wronger her. The way Apple stops and starts the music as a shift from the verse to the chorus is a jarring effect that deepens the mood. "Valentine" opens like a funeral dirge with Apple warbling just above a whisper like a late night torch singer in a half empty piano bar. "Jonathan" is full of scratches and scrapes in the background as if the author is stuck in the street gearing up to say all the things she has kept pent up for years. The centerpiece of the record comes with the almost traditional sounding "Werewolf", which is the most pop thing on the album. "Werewolf" is the trademark Apple sound all grown up but eerily similar to NORAH JONES in sound. Lyrically, the song lays out the destruction of a relationship and how it's probably best they go their separate ways. The listener is so emotionally spent by the time the closer "Hot Knife" comes, one wonders if this is a record that can only be absorbed on occasion. "Hot Knife" is a little more upbeat than the rest of the album but even it's off kilter drum patterns and school children backing vocals can't escape the despair.

Apple is so unique that getting an album from her every five or so years is just about right. The journey is so specific to her world and her vision, that more output would spoil our view of her. We need her to go away long enough to forget just how special she is.

(mp3) Fiona Apple -- Werewolf     

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Happy 4th of July

Fireworks are the best. Here DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE put on the best display I have ever seen live!!

Monday, July 02, 2012

Returning to the Mission of Burma

Some bands get famous long after they have gone. Some bands get famous then go away, come back and get more interesting. Then there is MISSION OF BURMA, who were interesting, got famous after they broke up and then got back together to make great new music.

Coming from Boston in the the late 70's, Mission of Burma blasted onto the punk scene with distorted greatness that ushered in the post-punk, more experimental era of underground music. they had a minor hit with "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" and released one brilliant ep and one epic album before calling it a day. But a funny thing happened on the road to oblivion. Late 90's artists as diverse and NIRVANA and MOBY started name dropping these guys as influences. Voila! the band was reborn.

Rather than trade on their limited cache as Alt Rock godfathers, the foursome strarted recording new records in 2002 and have now unleashed their latest "Unsound" on the world. Mission of Burma sounds are not for everyone, if you have any sort of pop sensitivity then stay the hell away from this. But if you like the sound of bands living on the edge between rock and chaos, then snap this record up quick.

Whether it is the clattering noise collection of "This is Hi-Fi" or the dark bass heavy mediation of "Semi-Pseudo-Soft Of-Plan" the Burmas have clear idea of how to incite emotion in their music. When they do settle for some melody, as in the almost hooky "Second Television", it is almost shocking. This set of songs doesn't have the polish of the other post punk legends WIRE, but does have similar vitriol. It's as if the band is trying to set all the neophytes straight about how to create experimental music. BLOC PARTY aspired to this sound on their first couple of records before succumbing to their dance instincts, which is a shame. Most bands wish they could construct music this edgy, such as the anthemic "Part the Sea", but don't have the guts. MISSION OF BURMA don't care about selling records, they have already established themselves as one of the best bands few people have heard of. Take the risk, get the record, and revel in the madness.

Dust-Devil can be downloaded for free via Soundcloud.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 22)

I've been listening to a lot of 80's synth pop lately so naturally THE PET SHOP BOYS have been in rotation. Am I feeling nostalgic for my youth? Probably, but "One More Chance" is still one of the finest slices of pop music you will ever here:

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

ExLovers make melancholy joyful

EXLOVERS are like a warm blanket. The London quintet make music that celebrates the joy of twee pop reminiscent of some of the sunnier elements of LUSH in their heyday. The band has just released it's debut album, "Moth", which is awash in shimmering guitars and wispy vocals that are perfect for lazy summer afternoons in the park.

The opening jangle of "Starlight, Starlight" sets the tone as it bounces along with it's skippy drumbeat, all the while pining for lost memories and lyrics about regrets. "This Love Will Lead You On" is a pop confection re-pleat with a big chorus and bigger guitar chords. "Emily" slows the pace down a bit without sacrificing the overall feel of the sound they have cultivated. Elsewhere, the single "Blowing Kisses" capitalizes on the dueling female harmonies to bring the right dose of melancholy to the song. When the band pulls back on the reins their sound is similar to THE SUNDAYS or MAZZY STAR as is the case with "Unlovable". or the boy girl duet "I Wish We'd Never Met". As is the case with most albums these days, the band closes the set with the almost 9 minute opus "The Ruins" which opens with a gentle guitar line and soft female cooing, which fades out before the hidden track, 'Moth-Eaten Memories" closes the set with more shimmering goodness.

I'm not sure where the band goes sound wise from here. The best comparison might be the early work of THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART, who also travel in this sort of sound, but EXLOVERS have created a collection of wonderful tunes worth spending a day or two with driving around with your hands out the window. If you're summer will be spent pining for lost love or silently aching for the girl or boy next door to notice you, then you have your soundtrack. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Martin and Vince's Vanity Project

Here's what happens when you become famous. After a while you get bored with the avenue that made you rich and famous and you start looking for new ways to express yourself. Actors will write children's books, authors will attempt to act in movies, musicians start fashion lines. It's inevitable. The problem is that sometimes this can be a good thing, sometimes not so much. There's a reason they weren't famous for this new endeavor, usually because they are not cut out for that work.The ancillary to this condition is the vanity project. An actor may write or direct. An author of adult fiction may try young adult or a comic book. A musician will seek out a new genre of music to dabble in. This is where we meet Martin Gore and Vince Clarke. 

Gore and Clarke are two of the founding members of DEPECHE MODE. Clarke also went on to form YAZ and ERASURE. So clearly both men are credentialed as pop music gods. Both have their roots in the dance/club/rave culture and have chops in creating anthems that move the body. So when I heard they were teaming up to record together, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I mean these guys are legends, what could they produce that wouldn't be good.

Turns out, pop music wasn't what they were after. Recording under the moniker VCMG the duo have released "SSSS", a collection of techno musings designed to entreat the listener to a club experience through your headphones. They duo reportedly concocted this collection through email exchanges working in separate studios. The offshoot of this working relationship, is music that feels tacked together. With minimal interplay between the two, beats are left to linger on (maybe be design). Each track houses the same basic structure; a 4-4 drum beat with effects washed over the top. Keyboard washes and blips and blops abound. Songs mesh together at a relentless place as the duo by homage to the scene they cut their teeth in. "Spock", the erstwhile single, uses the same keyboard sound as "Just Can't Get Enough" but warps it into a much darker, foreboding tone. only the lead track, "Lonely", spends any time building to the rhythm, the rest of the songs pound away, slaves to the beat. 

This is a vanity project because it in no way resembles their other jobs. Gone are the vocals about love, faith and despair. Replaced by the cold electronic dots and dashes that are designed to be enveloped on the dance floor. I am certain this record was created as a result of two famous guys wanting to shed the shackles of pop music for a fresh challenge. Which is fine, and taken for what it is the record is not half bad. Just don't quite your day jobs.

(mp3) vcmg -- Lowly

Friday, June 22, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 21)

NEW ORDER have a huge catalogue of pop perfection, but "Temptation"  is an underrated gem of a song, From Bernard Sumner's high pitched ooh's to the seemingly innocuous lyrics, it's all a little slice of pop heaven.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I am Not Lefthanded are brilliant...and have a new album

I love watching bands grow. There is something delightful about seeing an artist slowly shape and refine their voice over time, especially when that voice turns out to be something extraordinary. I AM NOT LEFTHANDED are growing up in a really fascinating way. We here at Your Moment of Zen have been obsessed with their work for sometime and now they are poised to take the next leap with their new album "The Fire and the Sigh"

The new songs reach beyond the bedroom quiet of earlier work and expand their sound to a more expansive space. Lead singer Katheryn Williams uses her voice to evoke emotion both good and bad without overtaking the sounds of the band. The opening track, "Brace Brace", sounds as if it taking flight behind the propulsive beat and bass line, which mirrors the fear the author has about jumping into new things. "Return" is closer in sound to their last EP and uses a piano line to drive it's melancholy tale. "Spark" has a creepy bass line and a steady drum fill as the only accompaniment to Williams vocal. By the time the piano comes in you are already deep into the singer's despair, but it's a musically enjoyable moment.  "No Time" plays like a elegy to something lost using a hushed vocal to recall love gone awry. When the band really soars is when it picks up the pace on the propulsive "Late Night Drive" and the closing "Falls to Me" (more on this song in a minute). The band even tackles Therapy's "Screamager" by going 180 degrees in the other direction, turning the punk original into a softer, but more painful folk song.

"Falls to Me" is where I see the grand potential in this band. They probably could have remade "Alone" for another ten songs, but "Falls to Me" shows the band reaching for sheer pop perfection. That is not a bad thing. The sheer joy of a song like this one is the ability to see the band in their rehearsal space as the song was born. The guitar line and bass careening together in a steady groove, followed by the epiphany of the lyrics about seizing the moment and making it your own. I could be totally wrong and for all I know it was a song born out of great frustration, but somehow I doubt it. You do yourself a disservice if you don't immediately champion this band and get on board as they climb to greater heights. I for one will enjoy every step of the journey.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Silversun Pickups shoot for the atmosphere

I admit I was a bit late to the part when it comes to SILVERSUN PICKUPS. I had dabbled in their music but I didn't really listen to their last record till it had been out for over a year. Something about their sound just never really grabbed me the way it did for other people. Maybe I was turned off by the comparisons to SMASHING PUMPKINS (which frankly I don't really see).

When I did finally take in "Swoon" I immediately kicked myself for waiting so long. This is a band that makes big, sweeping songs that have hooks to spare. I wore out the record and started building anticipation for the next release. "Neck of the Woods" does not disappoint in it's ability to both replicate and expand on their signature sound.

Lead singer Brian Aubert does not have the greatest of voices. His delivery range is limited and very nasal when he hits the higher register. This is not unlike Billy Corgan who can't really sing either. But his skill as a lyricist and developer of mood overcomes his limited range. On this record, Aubert has accepted his vocal frailty and turned it into another piece of the atmospheric puzzle. on the opening "Skin Graph", Aubert's vocals blend into the swirling guitar and bass lines to create a wall of ominous sound. "Make Believe" takes advantage a nice guitar pick line to set up the darker tone of the record as a whole. It also allows Nikki Monniger's bass to breathe a little more than before and showcases her deft backing vocal ability. The record really soars with the lead single, "Bloody Mary (Never Endings) which combines the keyboard washes made popular by THE CURE with a harder rock influence a la TOOL. What sounds like an odd paring actually works to great effect. "The Pit" dabbles in retro 80's synth sounds, as if DEPECHE MODE or NEW ORDER all of sudden showed up to jam. "Gun Shy Sunshine" revisits more familiar terrain for the band but with a new emphasis on building atmosphere around their sound to heighten the despair.

Silversun Pickups announced their arrival with "Swoon". With "Neck of the Woods" they stake their claim to the alternative rock big time.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jack White and the search for the perfect sound

Jack White is an elusive creature. In his time with THE WHITE STRIPES his single handedly revived rock music by combing through it's history and repackaging it for the youth masses. He has written modern anthems that are now played at football games. Then he went into savant producer mode and dabbled with side project after side project. All his fans wanted was the great solo record he was always meant to make. Like PRINCE before him, White has excelled at frustrating his fans with glimpses into his limitless creativity. Unlike that other auteur, White has decided to be coy rather than flood the market with every musical thought he has ever had.

So here comes "Blunderbuss", White's proper solo debut. From the opening organ lines of "Missing Pieces", it is clear that ole' Jack means business. His distinctive howl is in fine form on this and the second track "Sixteen Saltines". These are also the closest to traditional White Stripes songs you get on the record. White is not about to recycle his older ideas. This is a record with feet in both the blues and country. There are also hints at Elvis style rockabilly, gospel and folk for good measure. The clashing drum cadence of "Freedom at 21" meshes well with the tale of a rebellious young lady striking out on her own. "Love Interruption" is the highlight of the set, with is plaintive back and forth duet as White at ex-wife Karen Elston recall what they would do for love and what they wanted love to do for them, but ultimately couldn't.

If I have a fault with the record it's that it jumps around stylistically so much that it at times feels disjointed. It's as if White has had all these sounds collected just waiting around to be released from their purgatory. His skill as a multi-instrumentalist is also something of a undoing to a collective theme of sound. The back half of the album evokes the images of a piano playing saloon singer content to play whatever people shout out at request. Say what you want about the album, it's not boring. Each listen gives you new insight into White and his genius.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Yppah delivers the goods

Pandora Radio is a truly remarkable thing. A customizable radio station where you simply plug in a genre or artist and you get a selection of material tailored to your likes at that moment. This approach has led me to find several cool sounds I wouldn't have normally discovered. Such is the case with YPPAH. Falling into the electronic genre doesn't quite do this artist justice but if one must classify it, then electronic it is.

Now comes Yppah's latest record, "81". The overall sound is part MOBY at his height, part early m83, and part shoegazer all wrapped up into one. The opening track, "Blue Schwinn", glides along a drum beat with angelic female vocals recalling THE COCTEAU TWINS. From there singer Antonia Belle lends her voice to the pop techno of "D. Song", which finally morphs into a club banger. The middle section of the record recalls DJ SHADOW'S masterpiece "Endtroducing..." with it's combination of hip hop beats and synthesizer washes. "Never Mess With Sunday" is the standout track on the record, with a plucky acoustic guitar leading into a drum beat frenzy. The groove on this song alone will stick with you for weeks. "Happy To See You" echoes vintage SLOWDIVE in it's ethereal bliss. "Three Portraits" is what I imagine CHAPTERHOUSE would sound like if updated for the 21st century.

This is the hidden beauty of the album. It moves in so many directions. What could have easily been another one note, electronic repetition for over an hour discovers new and fascinating ways to explore sonic landscapes. Each time I listen I find a new sound or combination of instruments that shake me in new ways. This will easily be one of my albums of the year.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Gorgeous Cover of a Springsteen Song

Kind of a follow up on the my review of the new BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, here is a live performance by Scott Huthcinson of FRIGHTENED RABBIT and Neil Pennycook of MERSAULT covering "I'm Goin' Down" in breathtaking fashion.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Track by Track: Bruce Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball"

Bruce Springsteen is back with a new record made significant since it is the first since the death of long time Sax man Clarence Clemmons. It is said this is one of the most overtly political records Springsteen has made in a while. Having said that, here are my thoughts, track by track.

1. We Take Care Of Our Own:  A good start to the record with a traditional Springsteen rocker. All the elements are here; big guitars, piano flourishes, and Bruce at his most earnest. Vocally, there is a definite sense of restraint; a younger Bruce would have screamed the chorus instead here he merely sings it. It could be construed as a bit jingoistic lyrically, but it sets the tone.

2. Easy Money: A country/blues shuffle with a gospel choir paints the picture of what I think is a couple out to commit a crime. Whether it is out of need or the thrill is unclear, the song itself is meant to be an uplifting revival stomper.

3. Shackled and Drawn: Continuing the gospel flavor of the record, this mid tempo track features Bruce in his evangelical preacher guise. It appears the big theme of the record so far is being oppressed and beat down. It's a weird juxtaposition to have such spiritual sounding music with such dark lyrics.

4. Jack Of All Trades: An aching ballad drives the tempo of the record even further. This is the story of a man willing to do anything to get a job and pay the bills (clean storm drains, mow the lawn.) The man if confident his work ethic will see him through, but the coming storm indicates that might not be the case. It marks the first song that would have been a showcase for Clemons, with the traditional sax solo replaced another player.

5. Death To My Hometown: An Irish jig masquerading as a rock song in the vein of THE POGUES, this song is the angry Springsteen in his full force. A song that live will be powerful in it's stripped down basics.

6. This Depression: A plaintive drum beat drives this song as we start to move out of the anger of economic loss and turn to those we love for support. Bruce argues here that the only way we can get through this is with the love and care of others. By the time the guitar solo kicks in, you almost believe him.

7. Wrecking Ball: Springsteen has often cited WOODY GUTHRIE as an influence and here it shows. A folk number that if enhanced with a horns that serves as the core of the record. The protagonist is daring the powers that be to take him down knowing he has the strength to overcome anything. The second half of the song is a triumph of sound.

8. You've Got It: A simple acoustic song (rumor was this record was originally just going to be Springsteen himself playing the songs), explodes into a full bore rock song by the end. One imagines Little Stevie going nuts on this one on stage.

9. Rocky Ground: The inevitable duet with Patti Scialfa shows up at this point. I have never been a fan of her work with the band, but clearly when you are The Boss's wife you get some perks.

10. Land Of Hope And Dreams: This song has been played live for a long time (making it's debut in 1999), but it finally makes it way to recorded form. This has been one of my favorite songs for awhile so I was excited to see it get a proper recording. It doesn't have to thrust the live version does, but it makes for a great juxtaposition to the rest of the darker material on the record. This and the lead track are the clear standouts.

11. We Are Alive: I almost thought it was a U2 song until Springsteen comes in. Another southern gospel track accompanied by a banjo brings the set to a close with references to Martin Luther King's death and other social catastrophes. The sentiment is a nice one of surviving the storms of economic uncertainty and coming out the other side better people.

The final verdict is that it might not be a classic Bruce Springsteen record, and that's okay. Springsteen can experiment with his sound at this stage in his career and we will accept it. Rather than rehash the same sounds he isn't afraid to tinker with gospel, country and other folk sounds. Most of this will never find it's way into the live cannon, but as a work on it's own, it is a quality record worthy of The Boss.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Cranberries return to form

There are some sounds that immediately recall another time in one's life. I was at the height of my College Radio DJ career when THE CRANBERRIES hit the big time. "Dreams" and "Linger" came along right during the grunge heatwave and provided a respite for those of us who, although adorned in flannel, occasionally preferred less shouting from our music. The combination of Dolores O'Riordan was the spitting image of an Irish pixie with enough vocal chops take on Sinead O'Conner without all the melodrama. The Cranberries exploded with their first record and the subesequent follow up. Then they were gone. It's not that they stopped making records, it just that the public got tired and moved on. Such is the fickle world of pop music. But their sound has always had a warm place in my heart. If THE SUNDAYS took THE SMITHS sound and feminized it, then the Cranberries gave it an Irish brogue and mixed in a heathly dose of U2.

Now O'Riodan and her troop have released a new record entitled "Roses" and damn it all if it isn't really good. They have in no way reinvented their sound, in fact it could almost pass for a rehashing of their first record. Gone is the hard rock attempts like "Zombie" or "Hollywood" settling for mid level pop songs. "Tomorrow" opens with a Bono esque hoot before finding a jangly guitar line and riding it to pop bliss. "Fire and Soul" finds O'Riordan whispering her lyrics to her love as she then soars into the chorus of "I'll wait for you forever, I'll take you to my grave". "Losing My Mind" floats on a singular horn before exploding into a anthemic take on overcoming mental fragility. This is a set of songs about triumph over obstacles. It seems O'Riordan still has some fight left in that voice after all. The band has oftened dabbled in darker tones later in their albums and such is the case with the driving "Show Me The Way", which is the closest thing on this album to a harder edged song. The acoustic "Roses" closes the set with a quiet eulogy rather than a triumphant statement.

I really hope this record is taken seriously and gets some play on its merits. It's a really good album from a collection of musicians who know what they are doing. Take my recommendation and step into that time machine for a return from an accomplished band.

(mp3) The Cranberries -- Show Me The Way

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 20)

SCHOOL OF FISH made two really good records. Then they broke up and lead singer JOSH CLAYTON-FELT made a solo record before he passed away. I will always have a fond place in my heart for these guys. Here is their first single and their biggest hit, "Three Strange Days".


Monday, February 13, 2012

The Twilight Sad = If The Cure Were Scottish

Bands have to show their influences. This can be done in a subtle way (a guitar line here, a vocal phrasing there) or more overtly (See Interpol and The Editors aping of JOY DIVISION for their entire careers). THE TWILIGHT SAD straddle the middle of their influence showcasing of THE CURE. I'm sure these lads from Scotland didn't set out to ape the kings of doom and gloom as much as they did when they began recording their third album, "No One Can Ever Know", I imagine they were just looking for new ways to express their sound without rehashing their first two records. I'm also not saying its a bad thing that they did. What results is part mimicry, part homage and part ownership of new sound of their own.

The opening "Alphabet" kicks in with an eerie synth line as lead singer James Graham bleeds with a lost love who may or may not be dead. This is followed by "Dead City" which sounds like an outtake from "Wish" right down to the heaving bassline and clanky percussion. "Sick", the current single, exchanges out real drums for a skippy electronic beat and a staccato guitar line. Graham uses his accent to great effect rolling his "r"s with gusto to add to the off putting sound. The song builds to a nice crescendo adding synthesizers washes at the end. "Don't Move" is the closest thing of the record to an out and out CURE rip off, sounding almost beat for beat like "Fascination Street" without Robert Smith's yelping to give it the urgency it needs. "Another Bed" breaks up the pattern with a dance rhythm than when remixed will be an Edinburgh club banger for the rest of the year. At first it is seems out of place but after repeated listens it make sense to lighten the mood a little bit. The ending drone of "Kill It In The Morning" has a KILLING JOKE feel to it but ends with an uplifting chorus that is anthemic in the context of the whole record.

I admit I missed the boat a bit on these guys, I saw them a couple of years ago when they played the US with FRIGHTENED RABBIT and WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS. If the Rabbits are easily the most commercial of the Scottish acts right now and WWPJ have a punk ethos that drives them, THE TWILIGHT SAD are trying to strike a chord with the more misanthropic youth of the world. This record may just allow them the room to make that happen.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Perfect Pop Song (Part 19)

Let's start the new year off right with a little U2. Perhaps not one of their greatest songs, but a sweet ode to love and marriage non the less. I think of my wife every time I hear it;